Wizards forward Trevor Ariza dribbles around Lakers defender Kobe Bryant… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Kobe Bryant returned Friday night after missing almost three full games with a severely sprained ankle. The Lakers stormed ahead by 18 over the Washington Wizards only to see their lead slowly fade.
Defensively the Lakers fell apart, giving up 31 points in both the third and fourth quarters as the Wizards won at Staples Center, 103-100.
"Trevor Ariza had 12 attempts at threes and he was wide open," said an irate Coach Mike D'Antoni. "That's inexcusable."
The former Laker led all scorers with 25 points on seven-of-12 shooting from three-point range. Ariza was primarily Bryant's defensive assignment.
"I was getting a lot of open shots for one, knocking them down," said Ariza. "And also it's my son's birthday ... turned 5 today."
Bryant cheated off of the Wizards forward to help the Lakers deal with penetration.
"They got great penetration and we didn't do a good job closing out shooters or rotating on the backside," said Bryant. "It's off of John Wallscreen-roll [plays] and the big rolling to the basket and the guard having to help on that big. [Ariza] did a good job sliding up and making shots."
After the game, Dwight Howard acknowledged that he needs his teammates to rotate when trying to cover the pick and roll inside.
So why was Ariza wide open the entire second half?
Howard wouldn't answer but his body language was pretty clear (albeit unquotable).
"We messed up on rotations. We just left guys wide open," said Pau Gasol. "Trevor got going, Wall got going and all of a sudden they were in the game."
Steve Nash was just frustrated after the game, confused by the result.
"I don't know. I wish I had the answers for you," he said.
"It's a discouraging loss," said Bryant. "We're upset about it without a shadow of a doubt and we got to go out on the road and pick it back up."
The Lakers have lost two consecutive games. They play their next four on the road at Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee (on the second night of back-to-back nights) and Sacramento.
Bryant said the ankle held up on Friday.
"It did all right and I tried to pace it," he said. "I didn't want to push it too much and have it get stiff on me. I tried to pace it a little bit. I couldn't really attack as much as I wanted to but it's OK."
Bryant was a creative facilitator earlier in the game, dishing 11 assists. The ball movement stopped later in the fourth. Bryant missed a number of key shots and free throws, although he hit a crucial three-pointer that gave the Lakers life.
Howard threw a football-like pass to Bryant in the final seconds. The Lakers All-Star guard had an open look on a turnaround three-pointer but it didn't drop.
"I just rushed it a little bit," said Bryant. "I didn't know how much time I had to get it off and with the dribble -- and I had to check the line -- so I had to shoot it a little quicker than I wanted to."
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman couldn't bring himself to watch the attempt.
"I thought Trevor's length made him take some tough shots, but [Bryant] is still incredible," Wittman said. "He hits that three ... we can't guard it any better, and it goes in. I didn't look at that last one. I've seen him do it too often. He's the most incredible player at making a shot like he missed at the end and I didn't want to hear that crowd."
Gasol played his first game in more than six weeks. While he didn't shoot well, going two of 10 from the field, he managed to play through a solid 20 minutes. He said his foot responded relatively well.
"A little sore but hopefully it will be OK tomorrow, and it'll be better every game and my conditioning will also get better so I can increase my productivity and my minutes," said Gasol.
The Lakers play the Warriors on Monday.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.